The Bundy ranch issue in Nevada is characterized by a battle over semiotics.
The other day, the New York Times used an edited video of Bundy that makes him look and sound like a racist.
This link compares the NYT video with a fuller version of Bundy’s remarks.
And here is another link where former U.N. Ambassador Alan Keyes, identified as a “black leader,“ defends Bundy, saying:
He wasn’t talking so much about black folks, but about the harm and damage that the leftist socialism has done to blacks.
What I see and hear in the longer version of the video is an unsophisticated man using ordinary language to express a legitimate idea. The way he puts his ideas and his use of the word “negro,” especially in the shorter version of the video, creates a bad impression which Harry Reid has been quick to exploit.
Reid has called Bundy a “hateful racist” and urged Republicans and other to “condemn Bundy” for his “hateful, dangerous extremism.”
Notice how your own feelings can go back and forth on this issue and how Bundy’s comments are probably going to destroy most of his support. In the realm of political semiotics, he was like an untrained boxer stepping into the ring with a pro. All Reid had to do was wait for Bundy to make a bad move and pounce, as he has done.
Whatever you may think about Bundy or this issue it is illustrative of how unsophisticated language can create a semiotic that is devastating to a political position.
Bundy rose to prominence on the semiotics of freedom, cowboys, and anti-federal government. He may well fall on the semiotics of unintended “racism.”
As with so many other complex issues, the Budy ranch standoff is being judged on small aspects of the whole, as the main weight of American political and media forces line up against him.
When that same political/media weight lines up in favor of “nice” semiotics—such as the Patriot Act or the Clean Air Act or the War on Terrorism—it wins the day time and again. The combination of sophisticated semiotics and media control almost always decides the course of American politics.
A co-author of a recent scholarly study on the American “oligarchy” has this to say about American politics:
I’d say that contrary to what decades of political science research might lead you to believe, ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States. And economic elites and interest groups, especially those representing business, have a substantial degree of influence. Government policy-making over the last few decades reflects the preferences of those groups — of economic elites and of organized interests. (Source, with other links)
We are now living in a “Semiotic Age” or an “Age of Signals.” The Modern era is gone. In this current age, we have to be ever mindful of how semiotics are manipulated and used to further the interests of powerful groups that have control of media, government, and the US economy. I do not believe there is a humble person anywhere in the USA that can stand up to those forces and win.
Edit: Readers may also want to notice that the short video version of Bundy’s comments was edited by Media Matters for America, a well-funded group that claims it is “dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.” This group, and others, will very likely continue to use Bundy’s “racism” to slur what they will call Bundy’s “ultra right-wing” supporters, many of whom will make semiotic mistakes as bad or worse than Bundy’s. An individual going up against Media Matters, Harry Reid, the New York Times, or the Democratic Party is like a Baltic peasant going up against the Teutonic knights in the Middle Ages. They don’t have a prayer.
As a nation, I believe there is no hope for rational dialog on anything, but as individuals, we can understand our predicament.
Update 4/26: Black Soldiers: Cliven Bundy Is Not Racist.